Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Offworld Trading Company

Soren Johnson was kind enough to send me a Steam code for Offworld Trading Company last week, and I've been playing it since then. These impressions are based on 12 hours of play.

It's been 12 very, very good hours.

The game is in Early Access on Steam, but in no way is it in the early stages of development. It's polished and well-balanced and fully playable, with plenty of content.

The premise of Offworld Trading Company is simple. Corporations are engaged in offworld exploration for profit, and they exploit the planet for everything they can extract. The ultimate goal is to buy out the other corporations (via stock purchases) and be the sole presence on the planet.

How do you do make money? By selling resources you've either mined (like silicon) or created (like glass). All of the resources of the game have market prices, and these prices fluctuate over time, based on supply and demand.

When you begin a game, your HQ is at level one, which gives you a limited amount of resource claims. Every time you upgrade your HQ, you get additional claims. You're never going to have as many claims as you want, though, so each one is an exercise in deciding what you need most.

Sounds straightforward, right?

Even more straightforward, there is no combat, which is hugely refreshing.

There are, however, absolutely enormous amounts of sabotage and dirty dealings. Enormous! So what might appear straightforward on the surface is not so straightforward at all. The other corporations are utterly ruthless bastards, and they are hellbent on destroying you.

In addition to all that, there's this word: pressure. To me, this is the defining word for Offworld Trading Company.  Every second, there is decision-making pressure, and I mean this as a compliment to the design, which is rock-solid.

Here's an example of how, from the very first second, there is pressure. When a new round begins, you're on a map with other players, and you can all reveal a small portion of the map every few seconds. This shows you the types and quantities of resources available in that small area.

Theoretically, you could just take your time and eventually reveal 100% of the planet's resources, right? Well, no. You're trying to scout a location for your HQ, and you need to place it as soon as possible, because then you can start mining/producing. Meanwhile, the other corporations are doing the same, so it's a mad dash to find a suitable location and get started. If you want to have a chance of succeeding, you reveal resources until you see just enough for your particular strategy, and then you immediately set up your HQ.

An example: on one map, I revealed a few high deposits of iron, but only a few. Iron is a critical resource, because it's a requirement to produce steel, which is needed for base upgrades and all kinds of buildings. So with only a few iron tiles revealed, I put down my base, hoping that the other corporations would follow suit before any more iron tiles had been revealed.

Then I used almost all of my early claims to monopolize the existing iron tiles.

In the end, there was a huge shortage of iron during the round, prices soared, and when I sold my sizable surpluses, I had enough cash to buy out the other corporations and win the round. It was incredibly satisfying, to find and exploit that situation.

That sounds like an obvious strategy, but only because it's logical, and that's one of the truly delightful aspects of OTC: it makes sense. Do things that should logically work, and they will. The game system is very transparent and easy to understand. That doesn't mean it's easy to master--it's certainly not--but it's definitely transparent.

Something else tremendously satisfying about this game is that it plays like a symphony. There are so many different resources, so many decisions, so much to do (and always at a high pace) that it's possible to reach this incredibly immersed state where data is processed at an unbelievable rate inside your head. The nature of the game requires that kind of focus, and the feeling you get with that level of focus is just fantastic.

Helping process all this data is the interface, which is very, very clean. All the information you need is right in front of you--again, a high level of transparency.

Visually, the game is quite striking. That's very pleasant, and I enjoy the visuals, but even if everything were ass-ugly, this would still be a tremendous game.

My only quibble at this point is that rounds can end with breathtaking speed when other corporations (or, hopefully, you) amass enough cash to buy large amounts of stock quickly. It's so sudden that I miss a more gradual transition into the end game, some time to savor my victory (or stave off my defeat).

That is a very, very small complaint compared to all the positives, though. Offworld Trading Company is a wonderful piece of design, and its transparency is a lesson that all developers could learn from.

Here's the Steam page: Offworld Trading Company.

Site Meter